Nowadays community means something completely different. Proximity has little or nothing to do with how we create the webs of connection that we share with others. The internet has allowed communities to be built even from across oceans. We no longer know our neighbors next door, but we know people on other continents. Where in the past being a chicken farmer in a small community might make you beneficial to others, people are now more or less assets for their ideas and their participation in a call to action. Communities are built with like-minded individuals, allowing us to be pickier and more selective of who we spend our time and share our ideas with.
In some ways, the new concept of community is more fitting to modern times because our needs have changed. The government provides many of the things that had to be provided by the community before; such as public education, for example. The increase in population in nearly every part of the globe means that more people in each area could provide the same services and goods, which leads to competition and comparison. The fact that we are now spread out into so many places in the world means that we have more of a choice of our own personal communities and we just don’t have to rely on those in our own back yards.
This new community, however, can lead us to isolate ourselves from those that we could most influence and affect. Recently, a toddler went missing in our community. This was a true tragedy, bringing thousands of people together to search for him and offer help to those searching. When it was all said and done, people had travelled from up to 2000 miles away to help search. But this brings up the pitfall of modern community, the social media effect. Were there no tragedies 2000 miles away? No homeless needing shelter? No pregnant teens needing guidance? No missing children to be searched for? People all over the U.S. were compelled to act, thanks to the sharing and resharing of this precious boys’ picture on social media. But did we really make a difference? Do not get me wrong… the family and the community (proximity community) appreciated all of the help. It did bring people together. While we were focused on this one little boy, there were dozens of people who never saw a dime of aid, or ever had even one person jump in and advocate for them because they didn’t make it to the front page, or get 10,000 shares on facebook.
Back to old fashioned community; what if this had occurred 100 years ago? The people in California would have been tending to the people in California. The people in Kentucky would have tended to the people in Kentucky. The people in Maine would have helped the people of Maine. The people next door wouldn’t be strangers, and whatever their needs were would still be met. This is the detrimental truth of modern community- that so many are overlooked when we stop focusing on those in our own arms’ reach. It’s almost like the world has to compete to grab our attention so we will go help them. This isn’t what we are meant to be for the world; nothing but crows, attracted to shiny objects. When another shiny object attracts us, we drop what we were focused on and go after something else. We believe we are helping. We believe we are doing good things. But what about the people who die on our busy street corners because no one sees them if they are not being shared on facebook?
What is the church? A body, a community. In some ways, we are the modern community. The church offers connections to people near and far. As the world continues to grow and change, the church must grow and change with it; yet our first priority in the church should be those closest to us. Our number one focus outside of our relationship with God and family should be our church family. We cannot isolate ourselves and simply walk in and out of a building weekly, without developing relationships and connections. The Bible tells us that we are each a part of the body, and that each of us functions as one part of a whole. If we are not applying ourselves to the body, the body doesn’t work properly. Have you ever tried to hold your breath for a long time? The body deprived of oxygen dies. What if you are the lungs to the body?
But we cannot stop there, either. Our circles of influence reach beyond ourselves and our church to those closest to us, our community. Our community is the town, city, county that we live in. This is our direct reach outside of the church, and we must actively do something in order to make a difference in the world. We can’t live like spoiled children, sharing our gifts and abilities with only the kids we want to play with. We were created to show God to the world, but more and more the church is showing God to no one. We have become stingy, selfish, and self-absorbed as a body. We want to be judgmental about who we help or not. We want to micromanage the plan of God until God is no longer in our deeds, or our lack thereof. The world no longer can see Christ in us when we look more and more like the world every day. But this also means that we can’t fall into the social media trap. There are thousands of people, maybe sitting right next to you every day, who need what you have. You are uniquely created to provide something to the world- so share it!